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Vegetarian / vegan picnic - French style?

I'm smitten with a girl and would like to take her on a picnic.

Her: Somewhere between vegetarian and vegan (recovering hippie), prefers no wheat.

Me: Lactose intolerant, can't do strong vinegar (vinaigrettes, mustard etc).

I'd like to take her on a picnic, and was thinking of doing some veggie dishes.

I'd really like to experiment with vegetable pates. Does anyone have any recommendations for what to do and which recipes? I'm trying to choose one for mushroom pate now, but could use recommendations on that front, and suggestions for other veggies to try.

I'm also thinking of a chilled asparagus soup since I have two pounds that need to go, and perhaps a mild remoulade of some sort.

Any recipes or inspirations would be much appreciated. She's awesome!

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  1. Nice idea! Chilled asparagus soup, mushroom pate, and fruit would make a lovely picnic and very French. I would have said bread too but you said no wheat. When I am not eating wheat I quite like Scottish oat cakes, something like Nairns.

    Chowhound Chris VR posted this Mushroom Leek Pate some years ago. Vegetarian but not vegan. Quoting her:

    It's pretty labor intensive, and has a paté-like consistency and a rich flavor, due to the butter and cream, but it's very good and makes a nice dish to serve for vegetarians.

    2 large leeks
    1 1/2 pounds mushrooms
    4 tbsp butter, plus more for the loaf pan
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    1/4 cup dry vermouth
    2 tbsp. lemon juice
    grated zest of 1/2 lemon
    3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
    3 tbsp. snipped fresh chives
    1 tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
    salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
    1/4 cup flour
    4 eggs
    1 1/2 cups cream

    Trim off the roots and the dark green tops of the leeks. Separate several of the large outer leaves from the leeks, reserving the insides, rinse them and blanch in a pot of boiling water for 3 minutes. When they are wilted, drain and refresh them in cold water. Drain them again and pat them dry on paper towels.

    Butter a 6 cup loaf pan. Cut aluminum foil OR parchment paper to fit the bottom and sides, butter both sides, and line the pan with the foil/paper. As an inside lining, lay the leek leaves across the pan over the foil/paper, overlapping them as necessary to cover any gaps. Let the ends hang over the sides.

    Preheat the oven to 375. Chop the mushrooms fairly fine (if you use a food processor, do this in batches and be sure not to over-process them). Finely chop the reserved inner leeks to measure about 1/2 cup. Melt the butter in a large pan over medium-low heat and sauté the mushrooms, leeks and garlic, stirring often, for about 10 minutes. When they cook down and their liquid evaporates, add the vermouth and lemon juice. Continue cooking until the mixture is reduced to a thick, dark mass, about 15-20 minutes. Season to taste with lemon zest, herbs, salt and pepper. Stir in the flour, blending it well, and set aside off the heat.

    Beat the eggs together in a large bowl and stir in the cream. Loosen the mushrooms with a spoonful of cream, then mix in all the mushrooms, stirring to make it smooth. Carefully pour the mixture into the prepared pan and fold the leek leaves over the top to enclose the mushrooms. Place the pan in a larger pan filled with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Let the mushroom cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes before unmolding. Remove the foil/paper on top, turn the pan onto a serving plate, and remove the foil/paper on the sides.

    To serve, slice the loaf into slices with a serrated knife. Serve it warm or at room temperature. Makes 12 servings.

    1. Aww! I love it when a guy can say something like that on a public forum. (I am assuming you are a guy, of course) I thought I might throw the idea of chickpea flour crepes out there. Can be used as a wrap- they are usually good warm or cold. In my native Indian cuisine they are called "cheelay". You should be able to find recipes for them on the web. The ones I like the best involve chopped fenugreek leaves, minced garlic, bit of thinly sliced hot green chile, chickpea flour, a little bit of rice flour, water and salt. Stuff with a slaw (prolly better to do onsite, or atleast not too far ahead of time) or some brown rice and pan fried tofu, herbs. Even a fruit chutney might work. Okay, I know, not very french. But you can always throw out the idea. Good luck to you!

      5 Replies
      1. re: sweetTooth

        Brilliant, SweetTooth - there are also French versions of chickpea flour things called "socca". (From the Nice/Marseille/Riviera area abutting Italy - so would fit your Provencal theme!) Only downside is they're s'posed to be eaten hot, so it might be better for when you're having the prospective girlfriend over for dinner.

        I too love the romance-inspired/inspiring posts! <3

        1. re: Mawrter

          Yikes! Looks like my response got lost.
          Thanks mawrter! I did remember vaguely that Italian/French cuisine had something like this, but didn't realize that it was actually Provencal. I think I saw it on some Batali show or in Saveur. Yeah, socca do look like they would be too dry to eat cold. Cheelay on the other hand are supposed to be quite soft, so they would still work when cold. Looks like using Cheelay as a wrap is not that novel after all:


          1. re: sweetTooth

            I bet you did see it in _Saveur_, b/c the former editor, Colman Andrews, wrote a book called "Flavors of the Riviera" about that region (both Italian & French) and there's practically a whole chapter on socca & the various micro-regional variations, names in local dialects, etc. [/moment of food geekery]

            1. re: Mawrter

              Thanks for that info. I just looked up this book on Amazon. Looks intriguing. Putting it on my library list! Thanks again!

              1. re: sweetTooth

                You are very welcome - I want to read his book "Catalan Cuisine," too, and did you notice he has a newish title about Irish cooking? Love his writing.

      2. You sound like the kind of guy girls dream about.

        How about a sort of Nicoise salad, but with chickpeas instead of the tuna? Tone down the acid in the dressing, maybe by using orange juice instead of lemon, or substitute your favorite other type of dressing.

        The best vegetarian pate I know of doesn't take a recipe. Chop and saute well a large onion and as much garlic as you like. Get it pretty brown, and if you want to take it all the way to caramelized, that's good too.

        Put in a food processor and add one can -- yes, can -- of baby peas, strained of all their liquid. Add roasted walnuts or pecans (start with about a cup) and process till you get to the texture you like.

        You can experiment with seasonings. Some thyme or oregano added to the onions is good, as is sherry, vermouth or other winey things. I've cooked some garam masala with the onions, and that was very nice too, but it did take it in a very un-French direction.

        This stuff is super. Whenever I put it out at a party, it's one of the first things to go along with the deviled eggs.

        1. In all my 14 years of living in France, I never met a French vegetarian. So iy is not going to be authentic, but it can be fresh and festive. You could use an assortment , a large assiete of crudites.

          Salade Nicoise has Tuna, so that would be out. It also has anchovies.

          1. very nice. how about adding a nice lil veggie tart or a bruschetta with roasted eggplant/red onions on hummus.

            1. i quite like the red lentil pate with cremini mushrooms recipe here on chow


              i've taken it to some poker parties-- it's one of those brilliant little dab-and-smear dishes everyone likes, it's easy & cheap to put together, & since it's vegan you don't have to worry about it sitting out at room temp or in sun while you're busy getting to know each other better. good luck with that.

              1. What about a vegetable terrine? That seems like it would travel well. Obviously don't use gelatin in it -- use agar or something. It might be a little time consuming to assemble (and having a mandolin would probably be a must), but I'm pretty sure it would impress.

                Or, for something simpler but impressive visually, Daniel Boulud has a zucchini box Provençal recipe in "Great Chefs Cook Vegan" that I think would be appropriate. I am too lazy to type in the whole recipe, but if you can track it down, it looks great. It is a little involved, especially if you make the black Mosto oil and pickled shallots.

                I would also think a nice rustic olive tapenade would be great. Use a mortar and pestle for some of it (instead of the food processor) if you have time, or just process some of the olives a little less. This guy has some interesting thoughts about tapenade (and a recipe for fig and olive tapenade that sounds interesting, though I've never tried it):

                I have a great vegan pate recipe that I would recommend. This one is one I've made for tons of occasions and family events, and it's always a hit, even with non-vegetarians. I believe it's from Totally Dairy-Free Cooking by Louis Lanza (who runs a restaurant in NY). I like using Dupuy lentils with it, and the easiest way to grind up the bay leaves is in a mortar and pestle with a little coarse salt. It's pretty forgiving. I would double-check that the miso is wheat free.


                Not sure if it's allowed to post the whole recipe, but here goes:
                3 cups cremini mushrooms
                1 Tbs minced garlic
                1 Tbs minced shallots
                1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
                Salt and black pepper
                1 cup green lentils
                1/2 cup walnut pieces
                1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
                1 tsp ground bay leaves
                1 Tbs umeboshi plum paste (optional) http://www.simply-natural.biz/Mitoku-...
                2 tsp barley miso
                3 Tbs olive oil
                Toasted pita wedges, rice cakes, or Belgian endive, [ed - or baguette / crostini] for serving

                Preheat oven to 350. Toss the mushrooms, garlic, shallots and vinegar in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread mixture on a baking pan and roast for 15 mins. In a small saucepan, cook lentils in 2 cups of water for 25-30 mins, drain and reserve cooking liquid. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in oven for 5 mins. Set aside. In a food processor combine the mushroom mixture, lentil, basil, bay leaves, umeboshi and miso. Drizzle in the olive oil and add the walnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with toasted pita wedges, rice crackers or endive.
                NOTE: Add the reserved liquid from the lentils to thin out the mixture of it becomes to[sic] thick.

                1. If you can find flavorful tomatoes, how about a tomato bouquet? For each, peel one tomato and core. Use baby greens and a basil leaf or two, make a bunch, stems together. Insert in core hole (enlarge a bit if necessary). Tuck in a few enoki mushrooms and long chives for height. Squirt a light vinaigrette into the core hole and drizzle around the plate. Sprinkle tiny diced red onion, green and yellow pepper around.

                  Slice off a bit of the tomato bottom for transport and finish with dressing and plating at the picnic site.

                  1. ps - re: "strong vinegar" - how are you with lemon? One of my favorite simple dressings, which works both for warm vegetables or for salads is 1 part lemon juice (meyer or regular), macerate maybe a tablespoon or two of shallots in it for 10-15 minutes, add a goodly couple pinches of salt, 3 or 4 parts olive oil, and whisk til translucent and pretty well blended. Add more salt / pepper to taste.

                    1. Thanks, everybody - I ended up doing Hubert Keller's asparagus soup without the delicious seafood bits:


                      And thought it was pretty good, although it could have used something salty and animal derived on top. I did a stock from asparagus stems and mushroom stems and some parsley that blended better than standard veggie broth, I think. Good asparagus flavor.

                      I also did this pate: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Exotic-M... using only criminis, although more called for in the recipe.

                      Both dishes were almost disappointingly mild after making, really flavorful on the third day, and really mellow again on the third day, when we ate them and she told me how much she loved me :D

                      I'm definitely going to be doing this again when summer comes around, so I can do many of the more provencal flavored dishes. Thanks everyone!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: blkery

                        Re-posting my french lentil salad recipe. I think some lentil salads are boring, but the roasted root vegetables make this one. Note that it's better before it's refrigerated, because the lentils absorb the dressing.

                        French Green Lentil Salad with Roasted Vegetables

                        2 c. French green lentils, rinsed

                        ¼ t. salt

                        2 bay leaves

                        1 small fennel bulb, cut into 1/4″ dice

                        1 large carrot, cut into 1/4″ dice

                        2 medium parsnips, cut into 1/4″ dice

                        ¼ c + 1 T. extra virgin olive oil

                        2 T. red wine vinegar

                        ½ t. Dijon mustard

                        1 large shallot, finely minced

                        1 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley

                        Place the lentils in a saucepan with water to cover by 3 inches, along with the bay leaves. Bring to a boil add ½ t. salt. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and set aside.

                        Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine the diced vegetables with 1 T. olive oil. Spread on a large baking sheet and roast for 12-15 minutes, until a bit browned but not mushy.

                        In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar and mustard. Add the shallot. Combine the dressing, lentils, roasted vegetables and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

                        More details here: http://whatwouldcathyeat.com/2010/04/...

                        1. re: blkery

                          Awww, thanks for letting us know.

                          1. re: GretchenS

                            I really like the lentil salad in the Green's cookbook. It is bright and fresh, with lemon, feta, red peppers.


                        2. Ah, young love. Can't beat it. Glad to hear things went so well!

                          I think a really romantic future date could be watching Ratatouille, and then picnicing with Thomas Keller's Confit Byaldi, which is the recipe featured in the movie. It's vegan, but is also delicious with poached eggs and a little parmesan sprinkled on top, and can be served hot, cold or at room temp. It has a teaspoon of balsamic for the whole dish.

                          A little roasted garlic, white bean and herb puree, a wonderful baguette and some ripe fruit and great chocolates, and you'd have a great meal.


                          Happy romancing!

                          1. With all these ideas... y'all are beginning to set a fire under other guys... thanks for inspiration.